Saturday, October 8, 2011

Book Review: Fascinating Womanhood by Helen Andelin

Title: Fascinating Womanhood
Author: Helen Andelin
Enjoyment Rating: 2/10
Referral: It's been on my reading list for years. Some of the girls in my fairy tales class were talking about it and I finally decided to read it.
Source: Ordered used (stinky and falling apart) from Amazon
Books I've read this year: 124

When I was an undergraduate at BYU, there were two books I heard a lot about, but I never read either one. The first was Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique and the other was Helen Andelin's Fascinating Womanhood. In my mind, both of the books were equivalent (I must have equated "mystique" and "fascinating")-- I knew that both had a reputation for being scandalous in some way, and that both had the power to change people's lives. Ha!

I read The Feminine Mystique when I was in grad school for the first time. I was working full-time, going to school part-time, and I had no kids. I thought the women portrayed in the book were total whiners-- after all, I would have given anything to be home with an adorable, angelic baby, devoting my life to my husband and my family, instead of working myself to the bone. I noticed that many of the women in the class, most of them mothers in their 40s and 50s, really loved the book, so I kept my eye-rolling to a minimum. A year later I had my first baby, and I totally got where Betty Friedan was coming from.

Over the years, I've heard more and more about Fascinating Womanhood, but I could never bring myself to read it. I felt like I'd already subjugated myself to my husband enough-- he went to med school, I went to work instead of starting a PhD program of my own. He started a residency, I had babies (which I desperately wanted, to be fair). He did a fellowship, I had more babies. Eventually I felt that all I was good at was having babies. So I didn't want Helen Andelin telling me I had to have babies and wear a dress while I cleaned the house, and put my husband in charge of all the money, and nod my head and smile while he made ridiculous financial decisions (which he doesn't, by the way, I take credit for any misinformed handling of money around here).

But I'm in a better place now. My kids are a little older, I've gained some confidence as a wife, a mother, and a person with a brain in her head. So I read the book, and it was just as bad as I thought it would be. Some of the interesting parts: Andelin's "good" examples of womanhood come from novels- and I'm convinced it's because the feminine ideal Andelin describes does not exist in real life. 90% of the information in this book is total crap and propaganda (letters from people whose lives were changed from reading it. 10% might be good advice (stuff like "find ways to compliment your husband"-- which I'm not very good at doing sometimes), but I find myself trying to discount the good advice because the bad advice is so very, very bad. I was talking to Eddie about the book, and we decided that it might be practical, last-ditch effort advice for a woman who really wants to stay married to a guy who is a total jerk and needs some help in figuring out how not to drive herself crazy, but for most people with healthy self-esteem, it sounds like a complete nightmare of a way to live.

1 comment:

Moss said...

Loved your review. Why do you think this book is so popular among women in our culture? It is just a nightmare.